Passion and Love

I like Richmond.  Despite being a North Melbourne supporter there is no hate.  My grandparents, Rita and Pa, followed the Tigers.  Both were born about ten years before Richmond won their first premiership.  They lived through all ten of Richmond’s premierships.


As a kid, I used to sit in their kitchen and listen to the footy on the antique radio or watch it on TV in the lounge.  The house was dotted by Richmond memorabilia, small flags, a Richmond mantle clock and a glass tiger in a snarl.


Pa had a few yearbooks.


They watched the replay on Saturday night.  When South Melbourne moved to Sydney, they watched the Sunday game.  Rita knew the players.  She was vocal.  She hated Leigh Matthews and Hawthorn.  I could understand that.


Pa was more reserved than Rita.  He didn’t talk much about anything.  He was as much a fan as Rita, without the naked passion.  He could watch football in silence.  If the Tigers lost, he’d simply say they weren’t good enough.


It is natural I have an affinity for the Tigers.  They were good to Rita and Pa, giving them ten premierships in 60-years.


It’s a shame Richmond’s last premiership was 35 years ago.


Still the Tigers go on, because hope isn’t completely dead.  It still works occasionally.  Richmond’s problem is people can only see failure.  Richmond seem transparent, nothing on the inside.  People know what will happen without even thinking about it.


The Tigers are still the same team that limped out of 1982.  Different coaches, administration and players haven’t made a difference.  They remain brilliantly predictable, rather than predictably brilliant.


We all knew it was going to happen again this year.  We know their history.  There is nothing else to know.   For glory, we need return to 1980.  To understand how it all went wrong, we need to go back further, but that takes us to the glory years of Tommy Hafey.


It’s a confusing situation.  Richmond under Hafey ripped the hearts out of opposition players.  When Hafey’s glory years were over, the Tigers ate their own hearts.  Now they’re ripping them out of the chests of their supporters.


When Pa died in June, 1992, I spent two months in Melbourne, living with Rita to help with the transition.  We watched footy and listened to it on the old antique radio in the kitchen, just like we used to.


Watching footy with her was interesting.  She would yell at the television, kick it or offer abuse, you silly bugger.  It didn’t matter who was playing.  Each week she scrubbed out the losing teams on her fixture, which was stuck on the inside of a cupboard door in the kitchen.  Don’t argue with her about a result.  She’d be right, and would use her fixture as a reference.


She had a keen interest in three teams, her beloved Tigers, North Melbourne because of my family and Collingwood, because of my cousin, Rodney.


‘Except when you play Richmond,’ she often said.  Then there was no mercy.  She was a gentle tease.  The sledge has always been cultural.


At the weekend, after Richmond honoured the legend of Tommy Hafey, they somehow lost to Melbourne.  I wondered what Rita would’ve said.  She admired Hafey and what he did for the Tigers.


Damien Hardwick must be furious.  Richmond is regressing, again.  Rita would’ve hated it.  Unless something dramatic happens, they will miss the finals, again.  After finishing fifth last year, the season is a shambles.


Hardwick was appointed coach in 2010.  Despite the absence of finals, he was given a contract extension on 15 March, 2012.


At the time, his president Gary March talked up the extension.


‘This two-year contract extension is a reflection of the belief we have in our football program and its capacity to deliver our fans what we all want, finals football,’ March said.


Last year Hardwick gave Richmond finals football, which was what they wanted.  It was no surprise they were eliminated in the first week.


History keeps repeating itself.


Back in 2000, Danny Frawley was given five years to develop a game plan and a list.  The plan seemed to be working when Richmond finished fourth in 2001.  But three years later the Tigers were last.


On August 6 2005, Frawley announced his resignation, effective at season’s end.  He believed the new coach was going to have a good time.


‘I think our list is very strong,’ Frawley said.  He was wrong.


Frawley’s successor, Terry Wallace, received the same five-year guarantee.  It ended up a waste of time.  The Tigers didn’t play finals.  Wallace quit midway through his final year.


Hardwick had pedigree, as did Wallace and Frawley.  A two-time premiership player at Essendon and Port Adelaide, Hardwick played uncompromising football, hard at the ball and the man.


Like his immediate predecessors, Hardwick had five years to develop a game plan and a list capable of playing finals football.  The five-year contract must now feel like a five-year sentence.


Following Richmond must feel like a life sentence.  It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.  It all started when Richmond lost the 1982 grand final to Carlton.


The following day, my brother Nick and I had breakfast with Rita and Pa.  They were quiet and dispirited.


The kitchen smelled of kerosene.  Rita stood near the heater.  Pa was cooking toast under the grill.


‘I was going for Richmond,’ I said.  ‘I hate Carlton.’


‘The bludgers,’ Rita said.  ‘They were five goals up.’  Her eyes bulged beneath her glasses.  We didn’t talk footy for too long that day, except to say that Richmond would win the premiership the next year.


Pa played football for years in country Victoria.  There are a few team photos.  He looked fit and strong.


One day, when Pa was felled during a game, Rita ran onto the field and attacked his opponent with her umbrella.


That’s brave and hysterical.  It was passion and love.


When Rita turned 90, her doctor advised her to stop watching football.  ‘He said it isn’t good for my heart,’ she said.


Richmond has been breaking hearts for years.


Her wish to see another premiership went unfulfilled.  In her last few years she forgot about football.  When she died in 2007, Richmond lost six consecutive games and finished last.


The bottle of premiership port Pa bought in 1980 is now mine.  I’ve got a few flags and newspaper clippings.  My brother has the snarling tiger.  They are all reminders of the glory years, collected by two people who loved Richmond.


Football is a lifetime experience.  Rita and Pa helped build my love of footy, but damn, I am happy I don’t follow Richmond.


I’d just like them to win a premiership, sometime soon, so I can drink the port and toast my grandparents.  There is a proviso, though.  Richmond better not win their next premiership against North Melbourne…



About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Nice story Matt

    I think the rot started when we employed Frawley, who I think came from a club that lost (St Kilda) and was an assistant coach (Collingwood) through their lean years, and so hadn’t been around success. That’s why the Hardwick appointment was so positive for a change.

    I don’t think port lasts forever. It may be a good idea to drink it sooner than our next flag.

    Very evocative read, nice picture of family you created.


  2. Great read, Matt.

    Closely reflects my fondness for the Tigers – without the family connection.

    To be fair, this fondness was also enhanced as a result of last year’s Preliminary Final.

  3. Lovely piece Matt. Your Pa and Rita have a lot of the same qualities and history as my Nan and Pop who first took me to the footy in Adelaide when I was 6yo.
    What do bloody doctors know? Give up footy its not good for your heart!#%* How do you think she got the heart that sustained her to age 90.
    Its ritual and family and connection that gives us meaning and keeps us going.
    Thanks for the poignant reminder.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Excellent Matt great family connection article the tigers to have gone from the super power to the biggest under achiever as a club in the competition as we all no is a million stories in itself for risk of simplifying diabolical recruiting has played a huge part

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